Results tagged ‘ Chase Utley ’

Utley Won’t Play Third

The Phillies have pulled the plug on the Chase Utley third base experiment.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel said Friday at Marlins Park that Utley will not play third base before the end of the season, leaving the Phillies’ future at the position murky. Utley initiated the idea of a move from second to third and had been working out there for weeks, but the Phillies decided they could not make a credible evaluation about his ability to play there on a long-term basis in just six games.

“It’s kind of on hold, I guess,” Amaro said. “It’s more of a matter of practicality and what’s really best for the team overall. I think while having that option would be helpful, I don’t know if it’s really an option that’s going to make us necessarily better.”

That seems to put the Phillies in a tough spot.

Amaro has made it clear the free agent market for third basemen is not impressive. It is a list that includes Kevin Youkilis, Scott Rolen and Brandon Inge. The Phillies could try to trade for a third baseman, but good luck getting somebody like Chase Headley from the San Diego Padres. Internally, the Phillies seem to view Kevin Frandsen as a part-time player, while Freddy Galvis, who would have been the team’s second baseman had Utley made the switch, has never played third base.

“It doesn’t really change things all that much,” Amaro insisted. “It can be revisited, with Chase being an option. It just doesn’t make any sense for us to have him out there for six games and think that that’s going to change our minds one way or another. It’s not a dead issue. It’s just kind of unfair to the player and to us to think we can make an evaluation in six games and say, ‘OK, shazam, this guy can play.’ That’s not necessarily fair to him. We’re not good enough scouts to make that determination.”

Amaro and Manuel are meeting with players before the end of the season. They met Friday with Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

Amaro said Utley was OK with their decision to keep him at second.

“He’s fine,” Amaro said. “He only came to us because he thought it might help our club, because he knows it’s an area of need.”

Asked about his No. 1 priority this offseason, Amaro said, “I don’t know if we have a No. 1. I think offense is important to us. I’d like to create some balance from the right side offensively. I think that’s something that would help. Having a healthy Chooch (Carlos Ruiz) would help that, but he gets banged up so we have to be cognizant of that. Third base is an issue we have to deal with. I think while we have some very, very good arms in the bullpen we’ll keep an eye on that as well.”

But Amaro also said the Phillies might need to be creative to fill some holes this offseason. Rather than maybe spending big money on the big name on the free agent market, perhaps they will spend more judiciously.

“I think patience is going to be important throughout this offseason,” he said. “And the reason that I say that is some of the opportunities that will present themselves … none of the opportunities that present themselves, at least at first blush, are all that fantastic. I think we’re going to have to, as far as the availability of all players, I think we’re going to have to be creative to try to improve. There are only a few standout guys out there that would be potential free agents.”

Maybe the Phillies look to Galvis to play third base. They had said Galvis would be the second baseman if Utley played third, so they could simply switch spots.

“He did work out there during Spring Training,” Amaro said. “And overall, pretty good reviews on how he handled it. He didn’t do it in any games. But the man went from short to second and was awesome. And now … I don’t know if it’s that much of a stretch to move him to third base and not think he’d be a plus defender.”

Amaro and Manuel said they would keep the door open on Utley trying third base again. Perhaps Utley will spend his offseason working out there and want to give it a shot in Spring Training.

Perhaps.

“If you stop and think about it, he definitely has a big say in it,” Manuel said. “He has to feel comfortable, really good about it. He would do anything to win, but … we’ll just see. It’ll always be there if we want to do that.”

But for now the Phillies will go into the offseason looking for a third baseman.

Utley at Third? Could Happen Soon

It sounds like Chase Utley will play third base before the end of the season if two things happen:

  1. Utley feels comfortable enough to play there.
  2. The Phillies fall from contention in the National League Wild Card race. That could happen quickly. The Phillies entered Monday’s series opener against the Mets at Citi Field four games out of the second National League Wild Card with just 15 games to play.

“I think I’ve been out there three or four times,” Utley said, referring to his pregame workouts at third base. “Every time I get a little more comfortable. But I think there’s still a lot of work to be done. So far it’s going well. I feel like I’ve progressed a little bit, but there’s still more room for improvement.”

Utley is taking this potential move seriously. He spoke with Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel in Manuel’s office before batting practice. He later spoke with Mets third baseman David Wright behind the batting cage with Wright even crouching into a defensive position as he offered advice.

“I think he’s doing fine,” Amaro said of Utley.

Fine enough to play third base next season?

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Amaro said.

Asked if the Phillies can learn enough about Utley at third base if he plays just a couple games there before the end of the season, Amaro said, “Realistically, I don’t think so. But if he really dedicates himself to doing it, I think the probability of him being able to do it is much higher than it is with other people. I think more than anything else this is finding out if in fact he feels comfortable enough doing it. Having him play third base just gives us another option. And what’s wrong with giving us another option?”

Both Amaro and Manuel agree the Phillies are better defensively in 2013 with Freddy Galvis at second base and Utley at third base, despite the uncertainty of Utley’s ability to play there. Certainly if they feel Utley can play third base it would give the Phillies one less thing to worry about in the offseason, which would be a plus because Amaro said the market for third basemen via trade or free agency is “not very good.”

But here’s the big question: If Utley only plays a couple games at third base and Amaro does not think he can truly evaluate Utley’s ability to play there based on just a couple games, how do the Phillies go into the offseason knowing Utley is their 2013 third baseman?

“I don’t necessarily,” Amaro said. “It becomes riskier. Then you take a risk sometimes. Sometimes it’s OK to take a risk.”

Bad Weekend, Bad Signs

That couldn’t have gone much worse, huh?

The Phillies entered this weekend’s series against the Astros as the hottest team in baseball, but lost three of four to the worst team in baseball. They’re back under .500 and four behind the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race with 15 games to play. I’m not going to say it’s impossible to make the postseason, but …

  • Even if the Cardinals finish just 7-8 they will be 84-78.
  • The Phillies would need to finish 11-4 just to tie. That means they would have to win two of three in four of their remaining five series, and sweep the fifth.
  • And that only works if the Cardinals stumble and the Dodgers, Brewers or Pirates (unlikely) don’t outplay them.

The Cardinals play their next nine games against the Astros and Cubs, while the Phillies have nine of their final 12 games against the Braves and Nationals. And again, don’t forget the Dodgers, Brewers and Pirates are between the Cardinals and Phillies in the standings.

Maybe a bad weekend against the Astros shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. The Phillies had been on a great run, but we saw many of the holes this team had showed the first four months of the season:

  • An inconsistent offense. The Phillies were 5-for-31 (.161) with runners in scoring position in their three losses against the Astros. Three of the top four hitters in their lineup are hitting no better than .254: Chase Utley (.254), Jimmy Rollins (.252) and Ryan Howard (.229). The Phillies have some offensive holes to fill in the offseason, but I’m sure they’ll be expecting Rollins, Utley and Howard to sit atop their lineup in 2013. That is not entirely comforting. The Phillies can talk about injuries and bounce back seasons for Utley and Howard, but it is far from a lock they will completely rebound. The numbers for those three players have been in decline the last few years anyway. Howard’s OPS has dropped every year since his MVP year in 2006, except 2009. Utley’s OPS this season (.815) is up from last year, but it’s still his second lowest since he became an everyday player in 2005. Rollins’ OPS (.740) is up four points from last season, but overall he hasn’t approached his numbers from 2004-07. Now, taking these players individually it doesn’t look that bad. Rollins ranks 7th out of 21 qualifying shortstops in baseball in OPS. Utley would rank third among qualifying second baseman. Howard has 46 RBIs in 61 games. That is 122 RBIs over a 162-game season, although his .715 OPS  would rank 16th out of 21 first basemen. But the Phillies are averaging just 4.11 runs per game since Howard rejoined the team July 6, which ranks 12th in the National League. Just because those three compare favorably with other players at their positions doesn’t mean this offense is in great shape. That’s because they don’t have a player to truly anchor the middle of the lineup, like Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, etc. Carlos Ruiz has a .949 OPS this season, but it would be dangerous to expect him to replicate those numbers next season and beyond. Plus, he has never had more than 410 at-bats in a season. If Utley had enough plate appearances to qualify, he’d have the second-best OPS on the team behind Ruiz, but it would rank just 64th out of 202 big-league players. It’s tough to score consistently when the three highest paid hitters in the lineup aren’t hitting .260.
  • A leaky bullpen. Phillies relievers had a 5.25 ERA against the Astros, allowing 12 hits, 10 runs (seven earned runs), seven walks and one hit batter in 12 innings. The Phillies struck out 13 batters in those innings, showing they have good “stuff,” but they still don’t have the consistency they need to be relied upon.
  • Starters. Roy Halladay is 4-0 in his last six starts, but also has a 4.70 ERA. That’s just not the quality one expects from Halladay. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said weeks ago it would take Halladay a long time to lose the bad habits he picked up while pitching with a strained right back muscle earlier this season. But considering the mileage on Halladay’s arm and his age, it is not unfair to wonder what kind of pitcher the Phillies will be getting next season. I would never bet against Halladay, but it also is tough to just say, “He’ll absolutely be the old Doc next year.”

Utley to Third Base? Say What?

Chase Utley is a quiet man publicly, but privately he can talk.

He speaks frequently with Ruben Amaro Jr. about the future of the Phillies. Looking into the near future, Utley is smart enough to know they need an everyday third baseman next season. The Phillies will not pick up Placido Polanco’s $5.5 million club option, Kevin Frandsen is not viewed as an everyday player, Jimmy Rollins is not moving from shortstop, Carlos Ruiz is going to remain behind the plate and the free-agent market is less than desirable, unless Kevin Youkilis, Scott Rolen or Brandon Inge get folks excited.

So that is why Utley asked Amaro a very interesting question Monday.

“Can I play third base?” he said.

“Can you?” Amaro replied.

“I don’t know, can I?” he said.

The experiment began early this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park with Utley taking ground balls at third base. Nobody was supposed to see it, but 94 WIP had been broadcasting its afternoon show at the time, saw Utley, broadcast it and tweeted it. And so Utley stood on the field for a couple minutes before tonight’s game against the New York Mets and reluctantly discussed it.

(more…)

Rollins, Hamels and Other Reaction from Clubhouse

Here is what some Phillies said about today’s trades that sent Shane Victorino to Los Angeles and Hunter Pence to San Francisco:

JIMMY ROLLINS
How did you take the news?
Like you take anything. It’s nothing new. I’ve been through it before unfortunately.

But this year has been unexpected?
The results this year? The record?

Usually you’re bringing guys in?
At the end of the year Shane was going to be a free agent anyway, you know? We knew that his time here was over or they were going to work out something in the offseason. The season was going to dictate the length of his time here. Even if we were winning it wasn’t a guarantee he was going to be here. The writing was already on the wall that his tenure here may have been over.

(more…)

No Boost Here

The Phillies and their fans had been pointing to last night since Spring Training.

Wait until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard get back.

Just wait.

But reality should have hit everybody in the face harder than Brian McCann hit that grand slam against Antonio Bastardo in last night’s 5-0 loss to the Braves. No two players can save a baseball team. They can help — they can be a huge help, actually – but they can’t do it alone. This isn’t basketball, where one player can take over a game night after night after night (see the Cavaliers with and without LeBron James). This isn’t football, where the quarterback’s play can elevate a team (see the Colts with and without Peyton Manning). There are many more pieces in play in baseball, which explains why the Phillies are 1-8 since Utley’s return and why Howard couldn’t make a difference last night, despite going 2-for-4 with a double.

The Phillies are 37-48, the first time they have been 11 games under .500 since June 5, 2002.

(Randy Wolf, Ricky Bottalico and Dan Plesac pitched in the Phillies’ 2-1 loss to the Marlins at Veterans Stadium that day. Jimmy Rollins doubled to score Doug Glanville in the third inning for the Phillies’ only run.)

The Phillies are 13 games behind the Nationals in the National League East. Even if the Nationals (48-33) finish 41-40 for 89 wins, the Phillies would need to finish 52-25 (.675) just to tie. If the Nationals keep their current pace, they would finish 96-66. The Phillies would need to finish 59-18 (.766) to tie.

But what about the Wild Card? There are two this year, which helps. The Phillies are nine games behind the Reds, who would be the second Wild Card winner. The Reds are on pace for 87 wins. The Phillies would need to finish 50-27 (.649) to tie. Now, the Phillies have been a very good second-half team under Charlie Manuel, playing .600 or better ball in five of the past seven seasons after the All-Star break. But only once have they played at a .649 clip or better, when they went 50-25 (.667) in 2010.

Howard said last night the Phillies just need to worry about winning series at this point. That would be a start, but you have to wonder if just winning series before the July 31 trade deadline will be enough to convince the front office not to sell? If the Phillies win every series between now and the trade deadline they will be 49-53 (.480).

Again, that’s if they win every series. No slip ups.

The Phillies need to start winning series, but they also need to sweep a few here and there. Maybe that first series after the break in Colorado. Maybe that home series against the Brewers July 23-25. If they did that and won every other series they would be 51-51 before the deadline.

Tall task? Absolutely. Impossible. Not impossible. But right now there is little reason to believe this team can play that way. Of course, stranger things have happened. Remember the end to the 2007 season. Remember how far back the Cardinals and Rays were late last season. Anything can happen. But those comebacks also are exceptions to the rule. There are many, many, many more teams in baseball history that were this far back and never made a comeback.

Do these Phillies have one good run in them? What do you think?

Hitting Fourth and Playing First Base …

The Big Piece is back.

Ruben Amaro Jr. said after last night’s gut-wrenching 6-5 loss to the Mets at Citi Field that Ryan Howard, who has been on the disabled list since the season started because of left Achilles surgery, is “likely” to start at first base tonight against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. But “likely” means he will unless something absolutely unexpected pops up.

“Excited to be back in Philly tomorrow,” Howard tweeted last night.

Amaro said Howard will be evaluated this afternoon before a final decision is made, but “if we feel comfortable with how he felt coming out of this game – and so far we do – then it’s likely he’ll begin playing in Philadelphia tomorrow.”

Howard played nine innings at first base in a rehab game last night with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He went 2-for-3 with one RBI. In seven rehab games with Class A Lakewood and Lehigh Valley he hit a combined .500 (10-for-20) with two doubles, one home run and 10 RBIs. He hasn’t played back-to-back games at first base, but so what? It isn’t a pain issue with Howard, like it is with Chase Utley. It’s a comfort thing. Amaro said Howard is running fairly well, although “he’s had a tiny hitch in his giddy-up I guess, but when he’s running full speed he looks pretty smooth.” But it’s not like playing a few more rehab games is going to have Howard running at 100 percent. Howard said last week he won’t be 100 percent this season.

So if the Achillies is healed (Howard said it’s healthy), he can hit (Howard said the Achilles does not affect his hitting) and he is comfortable, why not bring him up?

What does anybody have to lose?

I’ve had a few people ask me on Twitter if he is being rushed back. Rushed back? I don’t think so. It’s July 6. No, the only question I have is: Is it too late to make a difference?

“If he plays this weekend, it may not be the worst thing for him to get some time off,” he said. “You just don’t know how he’ll react and what kind of adrenaline there will be. We’ll take it one day at a time with him.”

Day 1 begins tonight.

Could Howard Return This Weekend?

Could Ryan Howard rejoin the Phillies this weekend?

It sure sounds like it.

“I guess it’s possible,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said this afternoon at Citi Field. “But we’ll see how he feels the next day or so.”

Howard has played six games in rehab assignments with Class A Lakewood and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He is hitting a combined .471 (8-for-17) with two doubles, one home run, nine RBIs, three walks and three strikeouts. The Phillies needed Chase Utley to play back-to-back games at second base before they considered activating him from the DL, but Howard might be different, although he is scheduled to play back-to-back games at first base tonight and tomorrow night with Lehigh Valley.

“He’s been progressing pretty good,” Amaro said. “We’ll see how he feels after tonight.”

Amaro said Howard is running fairly well, although “he’s had a tiny hitch in his giddy-up I guess, but when he’s running full speed he looks pretty smooth.”

It sounds like Howard thinks he’s ready to rejoin the Phillies.

“I think he thinks he’s ready,” Amaro said. “But we’ll see. We’re still talking with the docs and have people evaluating him every day. … If he plays this weekend (for the Phillies), it may not be the worst thing for him to get some time off. You just don’t know how he’ll react and what kind of adrenaline there will be. We’ll take it one day at a time with him.”

Reading between the lines we can make the following assumption: If Howard isn’t back this weekend, he should be back for the July 13-15 series against the Rockies immediately following the break. But both Amaro and Charlie Manuel said Howard will be evaluated after tonight’s game at Lehigh Valley. That makes you think they could give him the green light and activate him for tomorrow night’s game against the Braves.

Howard Back After Break?

Chase Utley is expected back in the Phillies lineup tomorrow, but what about the Big Piece?

Could Ryan Howard be back shortly after the All-Star break?

It looks like it. The Phillies announced today that Howard will return to Philadelphia tomorrow for “functional testing on his left Achilles.” If Howard passes those tests he will begin a rehab assignment Thursday with Class A Lakewood. Once a position player begins a rehab assignment he has 20 days before he must be activated, unless there is a setback. That means if Howard took the full 20 days he could be back no later than July 18, or six games following the All-Star break.

Howard has been on the disabled list since the season started because of left Achilles surgery. He suffered a setback because of an infection in the heel in February. Charlie Manuel spoke to Howard on the telephone Monday.

“More than likely, the way things look, it’ll be after the All-Star break,” Manuel said. “He feels real good. He still says that when he runs he’s got a little limp. He says, ‘I want to play and I feel like I can play.’ He says, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be where you want me to be or not,’ but at the same time he’s got to be able to go play and be able to do some things. He feels like he’s getting there. He’s very positive about where he’s at when I talked with him.”

Utley: There’s Still Time

Is it too late for Chase Utley?

Is it too late for the Phillies?

“There’s no doubt in my mind there’s plenty of time,” Utley said before Monday’s game against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. “I know there are some people that have given up on me. And there are some people that have given up on this team. But I’ll be the first one to tell you that I definitely haven’t given up on myself, and I know our guys have not given up on this year. We have strong-willed guys on this team.”

Those were uncharacteristically strong comments from Utley, who has been on the disabled list since the season started because of chondromalacia in his left knee. He worked out with the team Monday and will play a rehab game Tuesday with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Assuming he feels OK, expect Utley to be activated and hitting third in the Phillies lineup Wednesday.

The Phillies certainly could use him in the lineup, in the field and in the clubhouse, which has been noticeably more blasé than past seasons.

Charlie Manuel is looking forward to Wednesday.

“Utley is our three-hole hitter,” he said. “I think he is the guy that works the count. I think he is the guy that when he’s right he’ll hit 25-30 homers. I think he is the guy that’ll hit .300. I think he is the guy that can knock in 100 runs and score 100. That’s what I picture Utley to be. I think until we find somebody I think can do better more than likely he’s going to land in that three-hole.”

And Manuel still believes Utley can be a productive three-hole hitter?

“I think he’s earned a chance to see if he’s that guy,” Manuel said.

“I do believe that,” said Utley, asked if he can be the hitter he was a few years ago. “There’s no doubt that (his legs) are stronger than they were last year. Having my legs under me is an important part of that. But time will tell.”

Utley would not say he is completely pain-free in his knees, but “I’m in a much better place than I was a month ago and I’m encouraged by that. I wouldn’t be out there if I felt uncomfortable.”

Utley hit .156 (5-for-32) in nine rehab games with Class A Clearwater, but it is difficult to read much into that. For example, he went 1-for-10 in a rehab assignment in Clearwater in 2007. He hit .332 that season for the Phillies.

“Every day, it seemed to get a little bit better,” Utley said. “I had some good swings and some bad swings, which was anticipated. But I’m optimistic of how things went.”

Manuel indicated Utley will be worked in slowly before they turn him loose, but Utley believes he should be eventually playing five, six or seven games a week.

No pressure, Chase.

“Anytime you add pressure to this game it will just make it more difficult. I understand,” he said. “I’ve been around here for a long time. We’ve had successful years here. I’m just as excited as the fans are to get back on the field.”

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